Imam Khalid Latif speaks at Common Hour on race, religion in America

By Vanessa Chen || Contributing Writer

This week at Common Hour, Imam Khalid Latif brought us his talk—Breaking the Melting Pot: Realities of Race, Racism, and Religion in America. Latif is the University Chaplain of New York University, Executive Director of the Islamic Center at NYU, and Chaplain for the NYPD.

Latif opened the talk by asking the audience to examine why they see things the way they do. He pointed out the prevalent anti-intellectualism in America, where people only see what is literally presented, and thereby form black and white perceptions of the world. Latif asked the audience to think critically about the nuance of everything.

Latif offered a personal anecdote of his encounter with a middle aged white woman in New York City. The woman had assumed that he did not speak English, insisted on knowing where he “really came from,” and how he would say “excuse me” in “his language.” Latif said she was an example of people who couldn’t see past what they literally see. Just because she saw the color of his skin, his beard, and his cap, she could not comprehend how a person who looks different than her can come from the same place. He said that living as a minority is to be constantly compared against the norm, and deemed outside the norm. The minority always has to defend themselves against being deemed as “the other.” One can see the power of privilege in how easily the privileged can dismiss and invalidate the perspectives and stories of the minority.

Latif spoke about another personal experience of discrimination. He was attending the 9/11 memorial event along with people who had lost loved ones on 9/11. Latif was dressed in a uniform that displayed his Chaplain ranking, waiting for the ceremony to start, when three men in suits approached him and asked to see his credentials. A woman who had lost her child in 9/11 spoke up for Latif and reproached the three men. Latif said that this mother knew no one was going to say anything back to her as she stood at the site of 9/11, so she used her privilege to stand up for him. Latif said it is very important for the people in positions of privilege to pull others up, just like this mother did for him.

Latif then talks about his experience working at a refugee camp in Bangladesh, helping Rohingya Muslim refugees who escaped from the genocide in Myanmar. Of the many pictures Latif presented, there was the picture of a little girl about four years old. She is orphaned, and most likely witnessed her parents’ death. Latif said she was orphaned by hatred, and all of us are responsible for letting it happen with our indifferent attitude.

Latif reminded the audience to not seek an emotional solution to the genocide. He asked us not to feel bad for a few days and then go on with our lives, to not only seek to ease our own guilt without actually doing something to help. He said, “organized evil will always win against disorganized justice,” and implored us all to help.
To conclude the talk, Latif urged us to stay informed. He said that there is a lot of controlled narrative in the media, so it’s important for us dig deeper to see the whole picture. Latif told us to look deep within ourselves, and see that our fears tell us more about ourselves than the things we fear. He says hatred and prejudice is formed because we are not living with other people, but living with the stereotypes of other people. As a solution, Latif implored us to go out and start conversations with real people—to listen to their stories, to understand their perspectives, and to expand our own.

Junior Vanessa Chen is a contributing writer. Her email is wchen1@fandm.edu.

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